A recent debate among film writers, bloggers and podcasters has been ignited by recent films like Inception and Catfish. It may seem strange that these two films would be compared, or even mentioned in the same sentence. However, they do have one thing in common and that is the fact that leading up to their separate release dates, it became commonly accepted that any spoilers would ruin the film. While it is certainly true that this is accepted about most films, the issue is that just about any information beyond a sentence-long synopsis was being considered a spoiler.
This caused much frustration as film writers and podcasters were unable to discuss these films in depth without massive backlash. This frustration sparked a debate on the importance of avoiding spoilers as well as the impact of spoilers on the quality of a film. It is a debate that has played out on the IFC News podcast, the /Filmcast as well as many other podcasts and blogs, and while it has been discussed endlessly there has yet to be a clear winner, or at least a commonly accepted one.
The main argument presented by those who do not mind having a film spoiled is that a film should be effective even if the ending has been revealed. They argue that if a film is ruined by knowing a twist than it is not a good film to begin with. This is certainly a valid point, as a film which doesn’t work the second viewing, is not a great film. However, this argument also seems to ignore several important aspects.
A film is crafted to be viewed in a linear fashion, not to be seen out of order. If a filmmaker wants it to be seen that way, than it is edited in that manner. The director and screenwriter craft a story to be revealed at specific points in the film as to evoke varying emotions in the viewer. If the film’s story has been revealed to the viewer beforehand, that reveal no longer has the same impact. For example, if a viewer is watching Catfish with no knowledge of the twist that occurs midway through the film, it allows the viewer to be on the same emotional roller-coaster that the central character was on. With knowing the twist, the film would not have the same emotional impact as it would have had if it had been seen fresh.
Another important aspect that this argument forgets or ignores is that a second viewing is different than having the film spoiled before seeing it. The second viewing of a great film will hold up, and reveal things you didn’t notice the first time around. Viewing a film for the first time that has already been spoiled for you, will normally play dry and without surprise. Take Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, if the film had been spoiled, not only would the ending lose its impact but it would not play the same as if it were being watched a second time. Having experienced the twist during the first viewing, repeated viewings reveal an even more disturbing film, not to mention you are able to appreciate the hints and clues throughout the film.
It is not hard to understand the frustration caused by the inability to discuss a film in depth without heavy spoiler warnings, as I have had the difficulty of writing a spoiler-free Catfish review. However, dismissing the importance of a proper reveal or twist as an integral aspect of the filmmaking is wrong. A good film can still be ruined by being spoiled, as it was crafted to be viewed its first time completely fresh without any knowledge of the twist. Spoilers should be avoided at all times, as a great film reveal can be one of the most satisfying film experiences possible.